"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Meet the Arkansas Judge Who Faces Impeachment for Protesting Against the Death Penalty

Judge Wendell Griffen
Judge Wendell Griffen
Arkansas had initially planned to execute eight men over 11 days during the month of April, but several of the executions were blocked by the courts. 

One of the judges who blocked the state’s efforts is now facing calls to be impeached. 

On April 14, state Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order that effectively halted six of the executions over concerns the state used false pretenses to obtain a key drug slated to be used in the executions. 

Following his ruling, Judge Griffen took part in an anti-death penalty protest outside the Governor’s Mansion organized by his church to mark Good Friday. 

In addition to being a judge, Griffen is an ordained Baptist minister. 

Calls for Wendell Griffen’s impeachment began soon after photographs from the vigil appeared in the press showing him lying down on a cot with his hands bound together as though he were a condemned man on a gurney. 

In his first national television interview, Wendell Griffen speaks to Democracy Now!

JUDGE WENDELL GRIFFEN: First of all, let me correct the narrative. The case in which I ruled was not a death penalty case. The case involved a complaint by a distributor of a pharmaceutical product, a drug, that had—that drug obtained by the Arkansas Department of Corrections under false pretenses. The drug was obtained, and the distributor sought to get the drug back. The distributor filed a motion for a temporary restraining order on Good Friday, the afternoon of Good Friday, shortly before I was going to attend a prayer vigil that our congregation had scheduled in front of the Governor’s Mansion. Based on the law that governs contracts and property—basically, property law—I found that the distributor had a case and that the distributor’s chance of having its property returned was likely to be destroyed, unless I entered temporary restraining order. I entered the temporary restraining order, went to the prayer vigil, and the ruling was incorrectly reported as a ruling as blocking executions. Actually, the effect of the temporary restraining order was to simply hold the status quo, to simply say to everybody, "Listen, do not dispose of this drug until we can get all of the parties before me and we can sort this out, whether or not the Department of Corrections correctly has the right to hold this drug, or whether or not this drug in fact was wrongly obtained." The evidence before me showed it was wrongly obtained. And so I did what I was supposed to do.

Now, I also went to the—I also went to the prayer vigil. That’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m a pastor. Good Friday is the religious holiday before Easter when followers of Jesus commemorate the death of Jesus. Our congregation had planned to have our Good Friday observance in front of the Governor’s Mansion before this motion was submitted to me. And so, as a pastor, as a follower of Jesus, I went to the Good Friday prayer vigil. And as a follower of Jesus, in solidarity with the religion of Jesus, I lay on a cot to show my solidarity with Jesus, who was a condemned man, condemned by the Roman Empire to death. And so that’s what happened.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Judge Griffen, were you surprised by the firestorm that followed your participation in that vigil, and the calls for your impeachment?

JUDGE WENDELL GRIFFEN: I was surprised that there was such a refusal to even ask about the facts. The case, as I mentioned earlier, was not a death penalty case. It was a case about the return of wrongfully obtained property. I was surprised that people did not understand that no matter what my views are on the death penalty, the law on the right to get your property back is the law on getting your property back. And no matter who the judge is, that law has to be followed. As a matter of fact, after the Arkansas Supreme Court removed me from the case, the judge who took that case after me heard the same case, heard the same facts and ruled the same way. So, the issue is not what one’s view is or what people want one’s view to be about capital punishment. The issue is whether or not a judge will follow the law regardless of how he or she feels about an issue. I did that. Now, what surprised me is that people who claim to believe in the integrity of judiciary and judicial independence now somehow believe that judicial independence is a threat, so that they believe that judges who follow the law should be impeached. That surprises me. And really, it disappoints me.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Judge Griffen, state Senator Trent Garner questioned whether your views on the death penalty threaten your ability to be fair and impartial as a judge.

JUDGE WENDELL GRIFFEN: Let’s talk about the scene. First of all, members of our congregation were present at the Governor’s Mansion. There were also other persons present, other persons who were protesting the death penalty. They all had a right to be there. Our congregation had no right to chase off other people. And other people had no right to expect that our congregation would not be present. And, in fact, our congregation led the protesters in singing "This Little Light of Mine" and "Amazing Grace." Those are songs of our faith. And so, we did, as the followers of Jesus’ congregation, what we had a right to do. And as a judge, I did what I had a right to do as a citizen, by practicing my faith. That’s not disgraceful. That’s American. That’s democratic. We believe, because of the First Amendment, that every person has the right to live out his or her conscience. As a judge, I have an obligation to follow the law. That means that when a case comes before me, I have an obligation, as a judge, to apply the law that applies to that state, no matter what my personal views may be on an issue. It is not disgraceful for a judge to have views one way or the other way about capital punishment or anything else. It is not disgraceful for a judge who holds views to hold those views and decide cases involving those issues. What is inappropriate is for people to believe that when a judge decides a case according to the law, he or she should somehow be suspected as not being faithful to the law simply because he or she is faithful to their faith.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: Democracy Now!, May 8, 2017

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